Volkswagen AG’s European first-quarter market share reached a five-year low as auto buyers snubbed the German carmaker’s efforts to resolve its emissions-cheating scandal, turning to models from BMW AG, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Daimler AG.
Volkswagen’s brands, including mass-market Skoda and up-market Audi, accounted for 23.4% of new registrations in the three months ended March versus 24.4% a year earlier, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association said Friday in a statement. That was Volkswagen’s worst showing for the period since 2011. Industrywide demand in the region rose 5.7% to 1.74 million cars in March, the 31st consecutive month of growth, and jumped 8.1% in the quarter to 3.93 million.
The German company has struggled to regain customers’ trust after admitting in September to rigging exhaust systems on 11 million diesel-powered cars worldwide to falsely pass official emissions tests. Its biggest-selling brands have also lacked new sport utility vehicles in their lineups, enabling Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep unit, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz and BMW to gain buyers as the models become more popular.
“The western European car market is recovering much faster than most analysts anticipated, including myself,” Peter Schmidt, chief editor of Automotive Industry Data, said before the ACEA released figures. “Meanwhile, some VW customers are sitting and waiting to see if VW diesel can be clean.”
Volkswagen group European sales rose 2.3% in March, held back by a 1.6% drop at the VW nameplate. In its German home market, the division’s sales dropped 6.3% last month while industrywide demand held steady. Group first-quarter registrations in Europe increased 3.5%, despite the brand’s 0.5% decline.
The strongest sales gains in Europe last month included 15% at BMW, which is luring drivers with the X3 and coupe-like X6 SUVs, and 13% at Fiat Chrysler, bolstered by Jeep’s Grand Cherokee and compact Renegade and the Fiat marque’s 500X SUV. Daimler’s March registrations jumped 11% as Mercedes, which overtook BMW’s namesake brand to lead the global luxury-car market in the quarter, won buyers with a new version of its E-Class sedan as well as the GLE and coupe-style GLC SUVs.
The SUV segment may expand to 25% of Europe’s market by the end of this year from 23% now, Roelant de Waard, Ford Motor Co.’s head of sales in the region, told journalists on a conference call Thursday. Growing demand has helped keep pricing stronger for those models, he said. That contrasts with discounts of about 25% on subcompacts in France reported by data-analysis firm JATO.
The ACEA compiles figures from 27 of the 28 European Union countries, as well as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.
By Ania Nussbaum